Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Friday, April 5, 2013

Who is to blame for the distrust of science?

Sometimes I feel that the news media does us a disservice when they report on scientific findings. When a scientific study with a surprising or shocking conclusion is published in a journal of science, many news outlets will make a big deal about the findings of the study without even mentioning the fact that one study by itself really means very little.  It would be better if they would wait until that finding is reviewed by the scientist's peers and other studies are done that prove or disprove the conclusions before they report. Of course, this doesn't - and won't - happen in this day and age of sensationalism.

The problem is that this sometimes results in the original conclusion being proven false and this can lead to people thinking that scientists don't know what they are doing. "They are always saying one thing is true then saying something completely opposite!" I hear this complaint all the time. People say that they just don't know what to think. I think this is one of the reasons that people distrust science, in general.*

I am so tired of having to explain scientific peer review to people. I just had this discussion with a co-worker last week. She didn't understand how science works at all despite being a reasonably intelligent individual.  It's very frustrating.**

Maybe the news outlets could take the extra time to explain how this peer review process works when they announce this sort of news.  Maybe we as consumers should make a point of telling them they should do this and hound them until they do so.

Of course, perhaps sometimes they do drop hints that we miss.  Maybe we aren't good listeners.  Perhaps we need to be more critical thinkers even in the absence of the entire story.  I suppose it is fair to say that we, the public, might be somewhat to blame ourselves.

But, then again, aren't journalists supposed to be critical thinkers?  Perhaps that went the way of the dinosaurs along with proper research techniques.  (Don't even get me started on that topic!)  Worse, we oftentimes hear our news from people who aren't really journalists but are just reading the copy that they receive from someone else.  I suppose it is a little too much to ask for these newsreaders to act as journalists.  They aren't paid to do that, really.  They're paid to look nice and read what is given them.

I'm honestly not sure who to blame the most here.  I realize that people aren't always taught to think critically so the idea of doing so is foreign to them. If this is the case, then perhaps it is the job of the news media to help educate them.

What do you think?  Is the listener/reader/viewer responsible for doing the critical thinking or should that be part of the journalist's report?

* No. It is certainly not the only reason but I can't do very much about people who refuse to believe in any science because some of it conflicts with their superstitions, for example.
**She argued that most people don't know how that works.  I pointed out that now she knew and she could spread the word to others! I figure it's worth a try...

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  1. I completely agree but it's a problem with the way news is reported in general, not just regarding science.

    Articles should provide us with the details and then let us go away and draw our own conclusions but journalists articles are like funnels. They start off with a wide array of facts and the further into the article you get they funnel you into their conclusion leaving no room for your own interpretations.

    1. I think you have a point. It does seem like this is the norm.